The name Doonbeg is derived from 'Dun Beag', which roughly translated means small fort. So it's no surprise that this pretty seaside village grew up beside a castle, which was built in the 16th century for the Earl of Thomond. You'll find Doonbeg 40 minutes or so due west of Shannon airport. Just keep going until you reach the Atlantic. You can't miss the golf course – just look out for the mountainous dunes and keep your eyes peeled. Somewhere around these spectacular 100ft high sandhills, you might get a glimpse of the Great White Shark. Because this is the course that Greg Norman built – his one and only architectural ensemble in the whole of the British Isles.
Apparently Norman made 23 visits to this amazing piece of links-land, which curves and tumbles for a mile and a half around the crescent-shaped Doughmore Bay. "When I first looked at this site, I thought I was the luckiest designer in the world," Norman said. "If I spent the rest of my life building courses, I don't think I'd find a comparable site anywhere." Norman's design is totally in tune with nature - 14 greens and 12 fairways were simply mown - not much earth moved for Greg here at Doonbeg. The look and feel of the layout is old-fashioned and the routing follows an out-and-back style, synonymous with traditional links architecture. Not bad for a course which opened on July 9, 2002, marked by an exhibition match between Padraig Harrington and the Great White Shark. Norman won 2 & 1.
According to legend, officers of the Scottish Black Watch Regiment planned to turn these dunes into a golf course in the early 1890s, but they settled on Lahinch because it's located closer to the railway station. When Norman got his hands on this land a century or so later, he said: "I'm not going to Americanise this golf course - not one single foreign blade of grass". Norman remained true to his word, but the club is American-owned and their membership philosophy is that Doonbeg is the ultimate home club for the discriminating international golfer. Ah well, at least Doonbeg is open for green fees and it's also open for local residents.
The layout is unusual in that it has a combination of five par 3s and five par 5s - the par 72 course measures 6,885 yards from the back tees. The signature hole is probably the 14th, a par three and one of the most sensational short holes in Ireland, although there are many memorable holes on this remarkable course. The 14th measures a mere 111 yards, but hitting the green is easier said than done because there are numerous distractions... the Atlantic stretches out beyond the green and the wind will dictate your club selection. Expect to take anything from a sand wedge to a 3 iron and hope for the best.
The Doonbeg project is believed to be the largest single investment in this part of Ireland and this amazing golf course has a magnetic appeal for thousands of golfers. Doonbeg is a priceless jewel between Lahinch and Ballybunion and one that simply must be played.
In February 2014, The Trump Organization bought the Doonbeg property in a deal said to be worth €15 million. The facility was renamed Trump International Golf Links & Hotel, Ireland and the course was redesigned over a two-year period under the architectural stewardship of Martin Hawtree at a reputed cost of €5 million.